Voter ID amendment threatens Native vote, leaders say

14 September 2012

Passage of an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would require state-issued voter ID cards in order to vote could prevent many American Indians from voting, according to officials of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA).

MIGA Executive Director John McCarthy said the proposed amendment, which will appear on the November 6 general election ballot, would create unnecessary obstacles to voting, especially for elders and those who lack transportation, use post office boxes as their primary mailing address, or may not be able to afford fees associated with the new IDs. If passed, the amendment would make it impossible for tribal members to use their tribal IDs to vote in future elections.

In 2006, Minnesota tribes took legal action against then-Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, whose office refused to recognize tribal identification cards as legal IDs for voting purposes. The tribes won the fight, and tribal IDs have been recognized as equivalent to state-issued IDs for voting purposes ever since. The proposed Voter ID amendment would change that.

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will host an educational forum and rally against the Voter ID amendment on Thursday, September 20, at 10 a.m. at Northern Lights Casino in Walker, according to Leech Lake Chairwoman Cari Jones. The event is open to all.

“Many of our tribal members are unaware of how passage of this amendment could affect their voting rights,” Jones said. “It would make it much more difficult for our people to participate in the democratic process. That is not acceptable to us.”

“Passage of the Voter ID amendment would be a huge step backwards, not only for American Indians in Minnesota but for all those who continue to struggle against marginalization in our democracy,” said McCarthy. “Our goal as a state and as a nation should be to maximize participation, not make it more difficult.”

The non-partisan Minnesota League of Women Voters opposes the Voter ID amendment, according to the organization’s website, because it is unnecessary, creates hurdles for eligible voters, and amounts to a costly, unfunded government mandate.

A coalition of religious leaders also has announced opposition to the Voter ID amendment, and has mounted a “Faith in Democracy” campaign to defeat it.